Poet Tony Mitton narrates five traditional stories from different parts of the United Kingdom in ballad form: ‘Tam Lin’, ‘St Brigid’s Cloak’, ‘The Seal Hunter’, ‘The Woodcutter’s Daughter’ and ‘The Pedlar of Swaffham’. The vehicle for this is an old storyteller who meets twins Toby and Tess on different occasions, all tinged with a slight air of mystery, and tells them a story. And the concluding verses give a hint at the identity of the old man. While Mitton’s hand is sure with the verse, the intervening narration tends to be just that bit arch, no doubt intentionally, but it does jar a little.
The book is superbly designed and presented in a solid square format with a smart blue cloth and paper binding and endpapers catching in silhouette reminders of each story that the old man leaves with the children. Bailey’s black pen and ink illustrations at times echo the style of Edward Ardizzone, but at other times they are disappointingly crude.
Overall, this would be an easy, albeit somewhat expensive, introduction for younger readers to some well-known stories.